As a microcosm of the nation, the figures at Goodstart are quite close to those seen in the broader Australian context. Nationally, men account for less than 2% of early childhood education and care workers.
All of this makes Goodstart Tuggerah, a centre with 11 male educators, rather unique in the Australian childcare landscape. But as centre director Adam Angwin notes, this point of difference has become part of the centre’s success.
“The number of male educators at our centre is well known and is part of the discussion about our centre in the community,” Adam said.
“We think it’s positive to have both male and female role models in our educational environment, and it benefits the children to see how our educators communicate and work together.
“Having so many male educators is obviously a bit different, but families have overwhelmingly embraced the experience. We’ve been over 100% full and have now extended our capacity to 100 students! We also have an exceeding rating in all seven quality areas, so we must be going something right!”
Why are there so few men working in childcare?
The success of centres like Goodstart Tuggerah raises the question of why there aren’t more men working in childcare.
According to Simone Miller, Goodstart’s Workforce Pathways, Partnerships and Diversity Manager, the low numbers of male educators we see in Australia are not uncommon.
“Very low male participation in the ECEC workforce is an international phenomenon,” Simone said.
“There are pockets of higher participation in Europe. For example in 2015 Norway had 10% male representation and Denmark 8%, but generally below 5% is the norm.
“Low pay is a factor, but a significant challenge to greater male participation in childcare are perceived stereotypes about their compatibility with the industry.
“We believe having gender balance is important and that male educators play a valuable role in creating better outcomes for children, so increasing male educator representation is one of the core elements of our workforce diversity strategy.”
What perspectives can male educators bring to early learning settings?
The discussion around the role of male educators in early learning is hampered by a lack of research and evidence, but according to a 2007 publication by the National Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC), a former national body and forerunner to the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), male educators can be a valuable resource for childcare services.
According to the NCAC publication, having male childcare professionals in a centre can:
- Encourage children to develop their gender identity
- Promote respectful, harmonious relationships
- Initiate play and learning experiences which acknowledge the similarities and differences between genders
- Challenge stereotypes by promoting alternative images of masculinity which are not aggressive or unemotional
- Encourage fathers to be more involved in the service’s operations, and support the role of fathers as important contributors to children’s lives
- Advocate childcare as a valued and worthwhile career path
- Reinforce that caring is a human response of which both men and women are capable
“It’s very positive to break down the stereotypes of what role males can play in raising, caring and educating young children.
“We’ve definitely seen more engagement from fathers in the centre, too. We find that they engage more easily with some of the male educators, which means they’re on the journey with us and their child.”
Recruiting more male educators
A 2017 paper published by Dr Kate Liley, Goodstart’s National Research Manager, focusses on Goodstart’s efforts to build a base of evidence to improve the recruitment and retention of male educators.
“We’re learning about what male educators experience in their work and exploring options that better support their recruitment and retention,” Dr Liley said.
“The title of my paper is ‘The men who are here, want to be here’, as what we’ve observed is that men who make a career out of early learning are truly passionate and committed to their profession.
“We hope to be able to provide better advocacy about the beneficial role male educators can play in the lives of children.”